& This Is How To Stay Alive
by Shingai Njeri Kagunda
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted December 6, 2021
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There are times I think I'm not qualified to review certain stories. I may have missed a lot of cultural references here, but there are some things that are universal. Shingai is from Kenya, where the story is set, some of the dialogue a mix of English and Swahili. The few I ran through Google Translate were simple phrases, general conversations between family or friends. Nyokabi Kimani has to continually remind herself she is the Oldest Responsible Daughter. That becomes harder to do after her brother Baraka commits suicide. She blames herself somewhat, even though she tried her best to support him, but she knows there were too many times she didn't listen. She knew her parents did not accept Baraka for who he was. Maybe he was gay, perhaps bi, possibly trans. What he wasn't was the type of person most Kenyans would say was a true man. He wanted to be an actor and singer, but his father fought with him on that, saying he had to go into business, or the sciences. Baraka could not live with that, or the constant harassment and ridicule for his choice of clothing or the way he acted.
A day or so before his funeral, one of Kabi's aunts gives her an herbal potion, telling her it might help her situation. In her desperation, Kabi drinks half of it, then finds herself propelled back in time to when Baraka was still alive. She intends to keep it that way, but unfortunately the potion doesn't maintain the effect long enough, and she's back to her family preparing for the funeral. She cannot convince her father or anyone else to postpone it. They only think her grief has gotten the best of her as she keeps yelling, "He's still alive! We can't bury him!" She drinks the other half of the potion, and is back with Baraka. She tries her best to change his actions on the day before his death, but once again is unsuccessful. She finds herself back to the present after the funeral. She begs her aunt for more of the potion, but is denied. Her aunt says the only thing the potion is good for is to relive certain memories, but those memories are all that can be saved.
This is how to stay alive, and to keep alive anyone you love. Memories. They are what connects us to others, and they keep alive all of their hopes and dreams, as well as our own. Baraka may be dead, but will always be with Kabi, and she will keep him alive in the hearts and minds of others. That's what Oldest Responsible Sisters do. A very powerful, emotional story. It is at least tied with my previously declared best 2021 novella, both of them from Neon Hemlock Press. The highest of recommendations.
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